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Video Cable Buying Guide

A comprehensive guide that will give you all the information you need on how to buy video cables.
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Getting Started

As most of us know, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. This is true in many aspects of life, including your audio/video system. If you have invested your time and money in a TV and other AV equipment, it only makes sense to use the appropriate type and quality of cables. Many people spend a significant amount of time and money selecting their equipment to ensure they have the best possible performance, only to degrade that performance by using either the wrong type or poor quality cables. It's kind of like buying a Ferrari and running it on kerosene.

Cables are not an accessory. They are a necessary part of any system just like tires and brakes are a necessary part of a car. Most experts recommend you set aside 10% of your budget for cables and a power center. In addition, most of today's products don't come with the cables needed to hook them up properly. In a recent survey, it was found that as many as 60% of all self installed A/V systems are connected improperly and with the wrong type of cables.

Features

The key to finding the best cables for your system is to be appropriate. If you bought the best possible TV you could buy, it only makes sense to use the best possible cables. If you bought a more value priced TV, mid-grade cables would be more appropriate. Unfortunately, the cables supplied with products are rarely the best choice.

Cables consist of 3 main parts. The conductor is the actual wire that passes the signal from one component to another. Shielding insulates the conductor. The connector is what attaches the cable to your equipment.

These are the 3 key things that make one cable better than another. As you increase the quality of a cable, the first and most important thing that improves is the conductor. Basically, as cables get better, they use higher quality metal and more of it. A good analogy is building a highway. If the cars are the AV signals, the cables are the highways they travel. If the highway is made of dirt (low-grade copper or other metals) and only one lane wide (those really skinny zip cord type of cables supplied with many products), the cars aren't going to be able to travel that highway very well. If the highway is made of state of the art materials (solid core copper, stranded silver, solid silver, etc.) and are many lanes wide (many cables can end up as much as ¾" in diameter and are a very heavy gauge), the cars are going to get from point A to point B very effectively.

Better shielding prevents other stuff from getting on that highway with the cars. It would be bad to have wildlife, children, non-yielding cross traffic, and other impediments on a busy highway. By the same token, it is bad to allow interference into your cables. Things like wireless networks, power cords, phone lines, TV signals, radio signals, cell phones, baby monitors, and many other wireless signals permeate your home and do significant damage to AV signals if traveling down an unshielded or poorly shielded cable. The better shielded a cable is, the cleaner and less "dirty" that signal is when it gets to your components.

Connectors are also important. Going back to the highway analogy, a great highway does no one any good if the on and off ramps are not equally as good. How a signal gets into and out of a cable is the function of the connector. Snapped, molded, or pressed on connectors don't allow the signal to flow into the cable properly. As cable quality increases, so does connector quality. Things like using better metal, welding the connectors on, and improving the fit of a connector to its component are things that improve overall signal and cable quality.

Cable length is also important. Try to use 6-foot cables at the shortest. Initial hookup is much easier, as is cleaning and maintenance. It is easy to bundle up some extra cable, but it is almost impossible to make a cable longer. Always err on the longer side if possible.

Always use the best possible type of cable when connecting your equipment. In other words, if your products support HDMI, you should use HDMI and not a lesser type of connection. The cable types ranked in order of quality of signal from best to worst is: HDMI, DVI, component video, S-video, composite video, coaxial. For audio products it is: HDMI, optical or digital coax, composite.

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